Here are two images of the Fleagle farm in Mayberry, Carroll County, Maryland. I don’t know if this farm was regularly called Runny Meade by anyone. The first time I saw the name attached to the place was in James Ezra Fleagle’s truncated autobiography, which I only became aware of quite recently, a year or two before my father died. In that document, my grandfather states that “The place was called Runny Meade Farm according to the deed.” But I know this about my grandfather James: he was fond of the idea of pieces of real property having names – fonder, maybe, than some of those who, being attached to him by bonds of blood or oath, were obliged to refer to locations by the names he wanted to use for them. Witness the house at Walstan Avenue, which because of the two large Populus nigras growing in the backyard he took to calling Twin Poplars. His daughter, my Aunt Miriam, says, “He tried to get everyone to call it that, but it never really caught on that much”. In any case, there is a modern Runnymede Elementary School within an arrowshot of the farm, so at some time or other some form of that name was hatched or imported into the area around the village of Mayberry in western Maryland. I actually like the name a lot, and though I have not yet seen the deed I reserve the right, in honor of my grandfather, to refer to the old farm thereby.
The first picture above declares itself as the “Fleagle farm about 1908”. This would be right at the end of the Fleagles’ tenure there. You can see the little dark line in the meadow where one of two small creeks bisects the property and runs down into Bear Branch. The second photo looks back the other way and was taken, I reckon (judging from the position of the picket fence), from the porch of the house, which in the first photo is obscured by the large tree – a catalpa tree, probably – to the right of the barn and other outbuildings. The left half of the modern composite photo just above replicates that view very roughly, I think.
I was glad to find the old photos of the farm in the box Miriam recently sent me. As I said in a recent post, I’ve known about Mayberry (as we often refer to the farm for short) for decades, but I always thought that it had been the Fleagles’ Ancestral Home on the Land for aeons. It had not. My grandfather was born on this farm in 1884 the very day after his parents and older siblings moved there from Frederick Street in nearby Taneytown, his father having just purchased it (what the family’s prior life as townies was like I have yet to learn). And the same man sold it around 1909 when it became apparent that both his sons and most of his daughters preferred to furrow a brow over a book than to plough a furrow on the farm. All but two of the nine children became teachers. He couldn’t continue to work it all by himself as he aged, so he quit the place and moved into town with his oldest son, my great uncle Ben. Still, I have revered this patch of Carroll County soil ever since I first learned of it.
I have only visited the old farm once. It was on the trip I made to the East Coast in 1992 that I’ve written about here many times before. Aunt Miriam and I spent a wonderful day racing around Carroll County, and this was one of our stops. At the time, the property and its buildings belonged to a sporting association called the Mayberry Archers (now it’s a gun club and shooting range). Stoner Fleagle, one of our relations who worked his own Fleagle farm nearby, had a key to the gate, and so we stopped by his place just north of the village center on the way there. He was on his tractor in his field, near Mayberry Road, but he climbed down and shook my hand. It was the first and only time I met him.* We all drove the short distance to the Mayberry Archers, continuing northeast up past the town’s one-room schoolhouse at the sharp bend, then right on a long driveway (at 2555 Mayberry Road) that ran through the woods into the farm. Stoner chatted with Mim while I ran around the field taking pictures.
There was an old farmhouse with a rusty roof covered in fake brick cladding, which I assumed must be the home my grandfather was raised in. Another large, light-colored building appeared to be a modern addition. We didn’t go into either. In retrospect, I wish I had stuck closer to Stoner and learned a thing or two. If Stoner told us much about the buildings I don’t recall it, so I’m not even sure that this house was the same one that was there in 1908, although I think it’s likely.
In the abovementioned autobiography, my grandfather described the property in great detail and even drew a map of it (shown above). I recommend the whole document as a fascinating (and sadly unfinished) account of life on a Maryland farm at the fin de siecle, but here is a representative excerpt; it demonstrates the clarity of James’ memory:
“The Spring and spring-house were in front of the house at about 100 ft. Over the spring and close to the spring house stood several silver-maple trees. The spring house had a large trough of brick and cement thru which the spring water was always running. Here the mother kept her milk, cream and butter. Over the spring house the meat was smoked and walnuts were stored. From the sp-house running water was supplied for the animals at the barn thru pipes laid under ground. These pipes were chestnut logs bored by hand and carefully joined. Below the springhouse the water made a little pool where little waterwheels were made to turn. Below this spot along the branch and near the large or lower garden was a patch of peppermint. In this large garden were sweet corn and beans laid out in rows so that the end fences being removed from the supporting posts the plot could be worked with a horse + plow. This garden was ploughed but the smaller garden near the house had to be spaded.”
Elsewhere in the account, James uses the name “Bare Branch” for the creek running through the southern portion of the farm. It makes sense when you consider that he also mentions a neighboring farmer named Samuel Bare. When I looked up the property a few years ago I noticed that most modern maps display this name as “Bear Branch”. For a while I assumed that people had forgotten the origins of the creek’s name over time and that the new maps were incorrect. But as early as the 1877 Uniontown township map, the names Bear Branch and Saml Bare appear right next to each other, so I have retreated from that opinion somewhat. It seems that grandpa James may have just been wrong about that.
I didn’t know about James’ account when I visited the farm. It would be interesting to go back now with a bit more background and details about the gardens and outbuildings of yore. As I recall, very little physical evidence remained of the past farming activity on the property, and there are things there now that weren’t there when James Fleagle lived there, such as a large pond on Bear Branch at the southern end of the property (though this had already appeared by 1992 – you can see one edge of it peeking around the white building in the composite photo above).
Grandpa’s map doesn’t line up in very obvious ways with modern satellite views, I find, so it’s difficult for me to picture the farm’s erstwhile extents on the current landscape. I wish this were not the case. There’s a tree on his map, a single chestnut standing in the corner of what I interpret as a fenced meadow. Those meadows are long since returned to woods. I’d love to be able to walk in those woods, knowing the old farm’s outlines under my feet, and come across a place in the forest where perhaps there are a great number of chestnuts in a wide circular area, all sprung from a single tree, a large chestnut remarked and appreciated more than a hundred years ago. –mdf
*Stoner (Charles Stoner Fleagle) died in 2012. I believe he was Miriam’s fourth cousin once removed and my fifth cousin.
Image archive IDs:
First image: 20161002-002_fleagle_farm_mayberry
Second image: 20161002-006_farm_at_mayberry
Third image: 20161127-003_mayberryFarmWithMim1992
Fourth image: 20161127-002_MimWithStonerFleagle1992
Fifth image: 20161127-001_mayberryFarm1992
About the physical photographs:
Mounted on cardboard.
Written in pencil on back:
“The Fleagle Farm
Frizzleburg, Md.[crossed out]
Mounted on cardboard.
Written in pen on back:
Written in pencil on back:
“MIRIAM LINKER’S GRANDFATHER’S FARM SOLD IN 1910 ON WHICH BENJAMIN FLEAGE’S [sic] FAMILY (9 CHILDREN) GREW UP”
Third, fourth and fifth photos:
Color print from film. Nothing written on back.